Wednesday, July 10, 2013

What's Next for the Lakers (Apocalypse Now)

Now that Dwight Howard is gone and we've all dealt with the aftermath, I want to look deeper in what faces the Lakers in 2013-14.  In short, it's basically "Apocalypse Now". The result of two seasons that have left the this team without an identity and wondering what's going on.

Folks wondered when the Lakers' recent good stretch would end and the downfall has come. It's true they made the playoffs the last two years but we've known that the flaws of this team have been evident. The lack of perimeter defense, players getting older, an inconsistent bench...all of it showed at times and it really showed during the playoffs.

At this point, I and a few other Laker fans have accepted that this season is probably a lost one. Let's look at why.

The best five now? Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman, Steve Nash, Jodie Meeks and Jordan Hill. It looks good but consider that Nash will be 40 next February and Kaman, while still only 31, had a career-low in rebounds last year while struggling in Dallas. Nash's health was a problem last year so the hope is that he can play at least 60-70 games.

Gasol will probably be the team's best offensive weapon. At 33, he's still an effective power forward despite being misused as a jump shooter. I'm not worried about his game as much as I'm worried about Mike D'Antoni keeping him away from the post where he can do just as much damage. In the last year of his contract, Gasol needs to be able to show all he can to convince the Lakers to resign him if they so choose.

Meeks and Hill aren't bad but Meeks/Hill are role players. Hill also plays the same position as Gasol so chances are they won't start. So who will be the Lakers' small forward until Kobe Bryant comes back?
I was always high on Devin Ebanks but since he's a free agent, the Lakers might let him walk or sign him to another one-year deal. But since he only appeared in 19 games last year and 63 total in three years so chances are, he's probably gone. Another young guy the Lakers under-utilized who could've been groomed to contribute right about now.

Then there's the Metta World Peace factor. Conflicting reports have said that he might not be amnestied or that he will be.  We'll know for sure between today (July 10) and July 16.

I understand why the Lakers would let him go. MWP isn't the young two-way standout he used to be. His shot selection is shaky despite the fact he'll give you good defense and play hard all the time. For financial reasons, it makes sense since the Lakers are nearly $30 million above the salary cap. If it happens, there will be time to pay respects but for now, he's still on the team.

As for the bench? Steve Blake's still there to contribute. Robert Sacre will be back to probably wave his towel. Jordan Farmar's back for a year and I hope he's matured more because talent-wise, he gives the Lakers someone who can create their own shot as well as youth on the perimeter.

(Ed. Note - Since this was published, the Lakers have released Metta World Peace and signed Nick Young, formerly of USC, the Clippers and Cleveland HS out here in Reseda. Another signing I like for the same reason as his San Fernando Valley buddy Farmar - a scorer who can create and give the Lakers some youth.)

If the team does decide to bring back Lamar Odom, I say why not? At this point, they won't be able to attract too many folks to take that mid-level exception so they might as well go to old friends. Odom's decline the last two years has been as sad to watch as the Lakers so maybe he finds a fire back where he had his best success?

You noticed I haven't yet mentioned the biggest question mark. Kobe Bryant and his recovery from his torn Achilles. Word is still that Mamba will return in November or December and for once, I don't want him to try and rush the process. With injuries looming over last year, the last thing I want to think about is further aggravating something so pivotal as that.

I also don't doubt that Bryant will possibly a find a way to maintain his excellence. But what shape will he be in? What part of his game will still be there? He'll be back in Nov/Dec but he might not be in full game shape til January or the All-Star break. Reality is, we really don't know what to expect and all we're doing is hoping.

Til we know, the Lakers have a patched together lineup of solid players but nothing that strikes fear among teams like Oklahoma City, San Antonio, the Clippers, Golden State or Houston.

And of course, Mike D'Antoni is still the coach. The coach that's allergic to adjustments, going deep in his roster, and stubborn on his adjustments. Jim Buss, a man who lacks the cool-handedness of his father, is still the owner. This team is not better defensively and if they can't stop anybody, it might not matter what they look like on offense.

So if you ask me, 2013-14 is a season I'm not looking forward to. A lineup that looks good but stuck behind other teams getting better. A quagmire we just have to get through after seeing the downward spiral the last two years starting with David Stern's napalm bomb on the Chris Paul trade.

I figured 2011-12 was going to be rough and yet the Lakers reached the second round. I said 2012-13 was the hardest season to watch since 2004-05 and I'm wrong again. It's become Bizarro World. The Apocalypse for Lakers fans who grew up enjoying moderate to great success and now see the Clippers as a stable organization.

No wonder Dwight Howard left. He left Vietnam for safer pastures while the Lakers are trying figuring out what to make of their environment. It's toxic, it's unpredictable, it's disheartening and while greener pastures may lie ahead in 2014, it will be a struggle getting there.

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